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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 06 May 2019

Research article | 06 May 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Calibration of hydrological models for ecologically-relevant streamflow predictions: a trade-off between performance and consistency

Thibault Hallouin, Michael Bruen, and Fiachra E. O'Loughlin Thibault Hallouin et al.
  • UCD Dooge Centre for Water Resources Research, University College Dublin, Ireland

Abstract. The ecological integrity of freshwater ecosystems is intimately linked to natural fluctuations in the river flow regime. Anthropogenic alterations in flow regimes threaten water security and freshwater biodiversity in many regions of the world. The impacts of climate change on the hydrological cycle change local flow regimes and thus impact on the ecological systems. In catchments with little human-induced hydro-morphological changes, existing hydrological models can be used to predict changes in local flow regime in order to assess whether its rivers remain a suitable living environment for endemic species. However, hydrological models are traditionally calibrated to give a good general fit between observed and simulated hydrographs, e.g., using an optimisation with an objective function such as the Nash-Sutcliffe, or the Kling–Gupta efficiencies. Much ecological research has shown that aquatic species respond to very specific characteristics of the hydrograph, whether magnitude, frequency, duration, timing, and rate of change of flow events. Since each community in a river may be particularly sensitive to a few very specific streamflow characteristics, alternative hydrological model calibration strategies are needed, focussing on good performance for those specific characteristics. This study investigates the performance of a set of specially developed, bespoke, objective functions made of combinations of specific streamflow characteristics relevant for fish and invertebrate communities. These are compared with the more traditional objective functions on a set of 33 Irish catchments with little human regulation. A split-sample test with a rolling-window procedure is applied to reduce the influence of variations between the calibration/evaluation periods on the conclusions. These bespoke objective functions are shown to be better suited to predict the targetted streamflow characteristics in terms of performance in evaluation; however, traditional objective functions yield more consistent behavioural parameter sets, indicating a trade-off between model performance and model consistency when predicting streamflow characteristics, especially when the number of target streamflow characteristics are low.

Thibault Hallouin et al.
Interactive discussion
Status: open (until 01 Jul 2019)
Status: open (until 01 Jul 2019)
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Thibault Hallouin et al.
Model code and software

SMARTpy: Conceptual Rainfall-Runoff Model (Version 0.2.0) T. Hallouin, E. Mockler, and M. Bruen

EFlowCalc: Ecological Streamflow Characteristics Calculator (Version 0.0.2) T. Hallouin

HydroEval: Evaluator for Streamflow Simulations (Version 0.0.2) T. Hallouin

Thibault Hallouin et al.
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Latest update: 22 May 2019
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
A hydrological model was used to compare different parameterisation strategies in view to predict ecologically-relevant streamflow indices in 33 Irish catchments. Compared on 14 different periods, a strategy fitting simulated and observed these streamflow indices yielded better performances than fitting simulated and observed streamflow, but it also yielded less consistent ensemble of parameter sets, suggesting that these indices may not be hydrologically-relevant for model parameterisation.
A hydrological model was used to compare different parameterisation strategies in view to...